MORE than 350 small businesses and charities in West Oxfordshire will be able to get business rates relief designed to keep the high street ‘alive’.

West Oxfordshire District Council’s cabinet has supported a government scheme which will cut retailers’ rates by a third if they have a rateable value of £51,000 or less.

The programme, announced in the government’s Autumn Statement 2018, comes as the high street faces more competition than ever from online shopping.

Many independent traders in Witney have spoken out against rising business rates in recent years, which several shopkeepers have said forced them to close.

Read again: Yet another Witney business raises concerns over rates

Toby Morris, the district council’s cabinet member for resources, said the latest move was good news for retailers.

He said: “Changing retail patterns because of online shopping is having a big impact, meaning there’s less footfall on the high street.

“Rates do have an impact on a business’s costs, so in that sense every little helps: it can’t be a bad thing to use every tool we can to bring costs down and make the high street more vibrant.

Oxford Mail:

"We want to keep West Oxfordshire’s market towns thriving – we want to keep the high street alive.”

An estimated 353 businesses will be able to claim the discount when it comes into effect on April1.

However they will have to apply to get it and the decision is subject to measures such as reliefs already in place and state aid.

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The scheme is likely to be welcomed by small businesses across West Oxfordshire and especially in Witney, where rising rates have hit traders hard.

Last year, Jeanne Chattoe, owner of Renaissance vintage clothes shop in Wesley Walk, was forced to close her store after 15 years.

Other shops to shut recently include The Laughing Stock joke shop and Domino Menswear.

Many independent traders have been based in the town for years, including Bakers Butchers, opened by Donald Baker in the Market Square in 1981.

Oxford Mail:

Mr Baker said that even butchers had been affected by the rise of online shopping, adding that the cost of rent in Witney also presented a formidable challenge.

He said: “I speak to a lot of businesses and many of them complain over business rates.

“In this industry it’s not the most helpful thing to buy online, but there are companies that have their own website and deliver meat from all over the place.

“We always strive to do stuff the supermarkets can’t, like a quality; personal service.

“On top of rates is the cost of rent. In normal circumstances there’s more rent to pay than commercial rates.”

Read again: Small businesses in Witney fear impact of Brexit

Madley Park resident Ben Molyneaux works with dozens of small businesses across the county through his business networking organisations The Oxfordshire Project and Mahwe.

Mr Molyneaux praised the rates relief and said the measure was a timely boost.

He said: “I welcome any additional help for small businesses.

“We are facing challenging circumstances as people face an uncertain future which is impacting sales and decision making.

“This relief will help to ease the pressure facing retailers in West Oxfordshire.”